Turner, Louise Marble [Lou] (1847–1939)


By: Alyssa Jones-Crow and Katherine Kuehler Walters

Type: Biography

Published: July 1, 2021

Updated: September 24, 2021


Louise “Lou” Marble Turner, freedwoman, midwife, and WPA Slave Narrative interviewee, was born in Rosedale near Beaumont, Texas, most likely between 1847 and 1854. Her interview was one of 300 chronicled in the late 1930s by the Texas Writers’ Project as part of the larger Federal Writers’ Project under the Work Projects Administration (WPA). In it she shared memories of medical care, material culture, foodways, and daily life from her childhood. Due to the scarcity of historical records on enslaved and recently freed African Americans, much of what historians know about Lou Marble Turner’s life comes from her WPA interview.

Lou was born into slavery to Maria and Sam Marble. She and her mother were held as slaves by Richard West and Mary (Jirou or Giroux) Guidry West. Since the age of eleven, Lou’s mother had been with the West family and was likely born in Louisiana, where the West family had lived prior to moving to Texas. Lou’s father was from Mississippi. According to the 1860 slave schedule, Richard West, who Lou referred to as “Massa,” owned five slaves and his wife, who Lou called “Missy,” owned two slaves. Although Lou referred to the West’s land as a plantation, West was primarily a stock raiser of cattle, horses, hogs, and sheep.

According to Lou’s interview, she spent most of her childhood at Mary West’s side. She slept in a trundle bed next to Mary’s bed, and when Mary made trips to see her grandchildren in the “French settlement” (likely in Louisiana), she brought Lou along. Lou enjoyed those trips because she had an opportunity to play with other children. Mary, who Lou called a “good doctor,” treated Lou with home remedies when she was sick, and as doctors were scarce in rural Texas, other area families often sent for her when they needed medical care. In her interview she remembered that Mary was kind to her and bought her “pretty cotton stripe” dresses separate from the other enslaved African Americans who lived at the West’s place.

In her interview, Lou noted the slave quarters consisted of log houses with a garden patch and remembered always having plenty to eat. A circuit-riding preacher came through once a month, and in between those visits, Mary West conducted religious services in her home for everyone on the West place. Lou’s primary work consisted of tending geese and turkeys, filling quilts, and carding, a step in making cloth. When she was physically punished, Lou recalled Mary usually swatted her on the leg with a “big, tall straw she gets out of the field or a wet towel.” The only harsh physical punishment Lou shared in her interview occurred when Richard West demanded she get eggs out of a nest that was under a corncrib. When she told him the nest was empty, he pulled her out from under the corncrib by her legs and whipped her, which outraged Mary. Richard said he whipped Lou because Mary spoiled her. Lou characterized Richard West’s treatment of the other enslaved laborers in positive terms but noted he changed during the Civil War and “start bein’ mean.” Fearing the South would lose the war and slavery would end, he started selling slaves to recoup his financial investment. In doing so, he split up enslaved families.

After slavery formerly ended in Texas on June 19, 1865 (Juneteenth), Lou’s mother had trouble getting Lou from Richard and Mary West. According to Lou’s slave narrative and the Freedmen’s Bureau records, the Wests initially refused to return several formerly enslaved children to the children’s parents. In at least one case, the Freedmen’s Bureau agent in Liberty County, Texas, intervened when Richard West did not return two boys to their mother. Lou remembered that Mary returned seven children when their parents came and that she did not want to leave Mary West (see RECONSTRUCTION).

On May 7, 1870, Lou married George Turner in Jefferson County, Texas. According to census records, George Turner worked as a farm laborer, and the couple lived in Orange County, Texas, in August 1870. In the fall she had a daughter named Sarah. Sarah’s father was identified as Berry Billum on Sarah’s 1955 death certificate. In 1880 Lou and her family lived in Beaumont, Texas, and George worked in a sawmill. By 1883 George had purchased twenty-five acres of land. In 1900 Lou and her husband, then a carpenter, owned their own home in Beaumont. The census also listed Sarah; her husband, Eli Ratcliff; and their children in the household. After George’s death on June 25, 1912, Lou’s daughter and grandchildren lived with her, and Lou worked as a domestic, a nurse, and a midwife (see MIDWIFERY). She was interviewed for the Slave Narrative Project sometime between 1936 and 1938. She never learned how to read or write.

On November 4, 1939, Lou Turner died of myocarditis at her home in Beaumont, Texas. She was buried at Blanchette Cemetery in Beaumont, Texas.

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Christopher B. Bean, Too Great a Burden to Bear: The Struggle and Failure of the Freedmen’s Bureau in Texas (New York: Fordham University Press, 2016). Angela Boswell, Women in Texas History (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2018). Randolph B. Campbell, An Empire for Slavery: The Peculiar Institution in Texas, 1821–1865(Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989). Records of Field Offices for Texas, Liberty County, Register of Complaints, roll 24 (M1912), Records of the Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen, and Abandoned Lands, Record Group 105 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). Lou Turner, Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 16, Texas, Part 4, Sanco-Young Slave, 1936–1938, Library of Congress, Washington, D. C. (https://www.loc.gov/resource/mesn.164/?sp=124), accessed February 20, 2019.

Categories:
  • Women
  • Slaves, Freedmen, and Free Blacks
  • Peoples
  • African Americans
  • Health and Medicine
Time Periods:
  • Antebellum Texas
  • Civil War
  • Reconstruction
  • Late Nineteenth-Century Texas
  • Progressive Era
  • Great Depression
  • Texas in the 1920s
Places:
  • East Texas
  • Upper Gulf Coast
  • Beaumont

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Alyssa Jones-Crow and Katherine Kuehler Walters, “Turner, Louise Marble [Lou],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 13, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/turner-louise-marble-lou.

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July 1, 2021
September 24, 2021

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